Tag Archives: integrity

Common Courtesy

I am tired of it all.  I am done with being cut off in traffic when the other car entering the flow refuses to ‘zipper’ in,  with being interrupted before I can complete a sentence, with reaching the buffet table and finding empty dishes because the guy in front of me took more than appropriate, with running out of the public park because dog owners de-leash their pets – a cannot tell by its gait that she’s friendly – and with neglecting to bag her poop, with having a door close in my face because the person in front of me sneaks passed the coffee shop door as it closes (as if they are auditioning for “Mission Impossible”) and with the general absence of please and thank you by society.  Call me a curmudgeon if you’d like, but I am desperate for some common courtesy.

In today’s vernacular ‘courtesy’ is synonymous ‘free’ or ‘extra’ – courtesy calls from a service provider, courtesy vans from the auto body shop or courtesy phones found in hotel lobbies.  But its original meaning had more to do with characteristics of politeness and manners.  It is this latter definition that I miss in today’s interactions; I miss males acting as gentlemen and females acting as ladies.  At some point in my lifetime, our culture shifted and began valuing entitlement and individual rights over mutual respect and civility.  Many of the lessons I learned in elementary school – the practices of sharing, waiting one’s turn and refraining from unkind comments – are summarily ignored by a large segment of our population.

We need to be reminded of the words of Jesus:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12

This sentence, commonly called “The Golden Rule”, is perhaps the second most familiar statement of Christ (the first being John 3:16).  God Incarnate told His followers nearly 2,000 years ago that we are to treat other people the way we want to be treated.  With a greater or lesser degree of success, we all have been wrestling with our obedience to this command since it was first uttered.  We attempt to work the angles, balancing our needs with the needs of others, often failing because we resolve the tension with faulty math: if I hold the door for one or two people, those two turn into an untold number; I then end up at the end of the line and face delays that no one should be required to face; therefore, I cannot hold the door for you.  My needs are paramount.

But when everyone makes similar computations, and I fear that this is our present reality, Jesus’ words are ignored and no one is treated they way they want to be treated.  Everyone does what they want and common courtesy is but a relic of the past, like hand-written letters and house calls.  All is not lost, however, and God’s word will never return empty: if a few of us choose courtesy and champion kindness, the culture can change over time.   Join me in following the golden rule; it might encourage other to do the same toward you.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash  

 

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Jingle Jangle Jingle

As part of a discussion with my family over Sunday’s sermon, my eldest stated that he was humored by the possibility of God’s bestowal of the spiritual gift of provocation.  His comment was based on the phrase “spur one another on” in Hebrews 10:24, a peculiar Greek word (παροξυσμός) which literally means “with a point”; the only other time the word is used in the New Testament (Acts 15:39) it is translated as “a sharp disagreement”.  The writer of the book of Hebrews was inspired to tell the church to look for ways to sharply provoke our fellow believers.

The term ‘spur on’ is a wonderful word picture of this process of provocation.  It conjures images of a race horse and jockey, working together as a team, to reach the optimal outcome.  The jockey is kicking his mount in the hind quarters and the horse is increasing its efforts.  At the end of the race, the horse, which endured the sting of provocation, is the champion and the jockey, the source of the provocation is the one who drapes the victor in flowers (quick question: horseracing’s Triple Crown was won this past June: what was the horse’s name?  And who was his jockey?  More of us can remember Justify, but few would come up with jockey Mike Smith).  ‘Spurring on’ may not be pleasant for the horse in the moment, but the resulting rewards cannot be underestimated.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds….  Hebrews 10:24

The writer of Hebrews tells us to consider (literally, to look upon) one another for the spurring on toward love and good deeds.  The Holy Spirit inspired a first century author to urge the church to look for ways to provoke one another.  This provocation, this calling forth with sharpness, propels the believer toward acts and attitudes that convey love and compassion.  It appears that these virtues – love and compassion – are not always instinctual, logical or natural.  We all have times when we revert to pettiness, anger and selfishness and need a good kick in the pants to motivate us to pursue the goal set before us.

So, perhaps there is a spiritual gift of provocation, a God-given ability to call one another forth with sharpness so that we all may glorify God to the fullest.  Perhaps there is also a need among God’s people to accept that ‘spurring’ with grace and gratitude, knowing the intent of our ‘jockey’ is the attaining of our very best effort.  No one wants to hear that they need to love the heartless or hurt for the homeless; most of us are comfortable loving who we love and helping who we help.  Then we wrestle with the truth that God’s love and mercy is greater than our expressions of them, and that we need someone to remind us that we are able to do more than we think we are capable of doing.

So, appreciate those whom God uses to spur you on.  Appreciate those whom God uses to agitate you to love deeper and provoke you to act kinder.  Appreciate those with sharp words intended to soften your heart.

I Will Be Candid

Yesterday was my son David’s last 1st day of school.  I was hoping to post on social media a pair of pictures: one of his 1st day in kindergarten and one on his 1st day of 12th grade.  I thought we had digital images from 2006, but, alas, our digital camera was purchased just prior to the birth of our youngest in December of 2007.  I am sure that I have a physical photo in a presently unavailable box somewhere, but it would not be found on my laptop.  However, in the midst of the search, Jeanine and I laughed and cried over ten years of captured moments.

We began with the 1st day of school pictures of the last ten years, then moved on to birthdays and Christmas.  We saw pictures of vacations and awards ceremonies.  We clicked through church events and graduations.  Some of the images were posed and prepared, but many were candid and spontaneous.   It is the candid shots that are the most delightful.  They are the ones that represent what is real.

There were images of that holiday when everyone cried at dinner, of the birthday where the kids were fighting over cake and ice cream, and of the random day where one of the children played with the camera.  It is these stolen moments, when raw emotions like love, joy or rage are on full display.  They are genuine: small faces with squinting or swollen eyes, mouths agape or lips pursed; they are goofy and gawky, slightly blurred by motion or misfocus.  They are life.  That is what elicited our titters and tears.  The beauty of those candid photos on my computer is that they enable us to gain a glimpse of the inner self – my (and my family’s) true fragile, flawed, fool-hearty, frail and fabulous nature.

Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  1 Peter 3:4 (NIV)

While the above-mentioned verse relates primarily to women, the truth it contains, in context is that there is a difference between the outward appearance and the inner self.  The world celebrates the outward appearance but the Lord values to inner person.  The selfies and pictures of perfect foods and vacations on social media are a charade; they are staged and stylized.  They capture the ideal of outward appearance.  I would rather hold onto the unfading beauty of my family’s inner selves.  I want to value their gentle and quiet spirit, warts and all.

A few weeks ago, I posted about my family portrait experience.  These portraits are essential to capture a moment.  But I will hold onto those fuzzy candids of my precious children, even though the images make my children cringe, because that is how I capture and hold onto what we are.  I love those little beauties standing on porches for the past 20 years and I appreciate the technology that allows me to remember how blessed I am through all the realities of life.

What We Are

We had an interesting visitor to the church the other day: a location scout.  It seems that there are plans for a major motion picture to film in Boston this fall and they were looking for a church to shoot a scene.  The scout told me they were looking for a place to film a sparsely attended funeral and she came by to take a few pictures of our sanctuary.  In the ten minutes that the location scout was taking her shots of the building, my thoughts went on a flight of fancy: what if our church was selected and we had Hollywood heavyweights filling our pews; what if our sanctuary made it into a movie; what if it were nominated for an Academy Award?

Whether or not we are chosen as a location for this movie, our church will not be captured on film.  The truth is that the church is not the building.  The building is a beautiful composition of plaster, wood, metal, asphalt and glass.  The church, on the other hand, is an even more glorious composition of personalities, abilities, experiences and passions.  The building is a specific place, but the church is a specific people.  While the building, with its carpeting and lighting, might be viewed on the big screen, our church, with its emotions and affections, cannot be experienced as entertainment.

Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.  Colossians 4:15

The above-referenced passage reveals an important truth found in numerous other passages in Scripture: there is a distinction between the church and the place where it meets (in this case “in her house”).  The early believers did not ‘go to church’ but went to a place to be with the church, to gather with sisters and brothers of faith to worship, to pray, to educate and to minister.  Church is not where the Bible tells us to go or what the Bible tells us to do, but who the Bible tells us to be.  The church is the family of God, the body and bride of Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit.  So, maybe our building will be in the movies, but the church is too great to be preserved on celluloid.

For most, this weekend represents the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, the time when schools and colleges resume their classes.  It is also the time when churches resume their regular schedules and programs.  It would be a great time to think about gathering with the church and share your gifts, strengths and passions in ways that foster growth and increase His kingdom.  For most of us, that will mean going to a ‘house of worship’ – I dare not say going to ‘church’ – and getting together with the church – what the Greek calls ekklesia, “the ones called out”.  Join others as we celebrate that we are more than a special place on the map; we are the one whom God has called out of the culture of this world and brought together as a family of faith.

That cannot be contained in any camera’s lens.

The Uninvited Roommate

We have a mouse in our apartment.  At least, we hope we have a mouse in our apartment and not multiple mice living among us.  On the bright side, it is a small mouse; however, small as it may be, it still has the power to startle my wife and family at will.  It has been seen dashing under the hinges of open doors and scurrying across the floor into a gap between the dishwasher and the cabinet.  This little mouse is, more or less, a nuisance, diverting our attention from the television or from conversation when it is seen out of the corner of our eyes.  That said, this little mouse may be an indication of a larger ‘infestation’ and must be dealt with.

Metaphorically, I have a great deal of little mice in my house: they are the seemingly inconsequential things called temptations.  They distract and derail my mind if they are not properly addressed as the damaging dangers they are.  They reveal themselves during the idle times of my life since I do have instant access to those little graphic images of a prurient nature or an app on my phone that enables me to procure doughnuts at a moment’s notice.  But, unlike the pesky mus musculus that might chew through an electrical wire or contaminate your cookie supply, temptation will (if unchecked) drag you off and destroy your life.

… but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  James 1:14-15

Unlike the house mouse, which infiltrates the boundaries of our abodes and then wreaks havoc, temptation is formed within the walls of our soul through the development of a desire for immediate gratification through the things of the world.  That desire becomes an obsession, that obsession becomes a sinful act and that sinful act becomes a sinful pattern, which leads to spiritual death.  While I can tolerate the presence of a little rodent without much concern for the repercussions, it would be foolhardy to allow temptation of any type to take up residence in my heart because the consequences are so dire.

To deal with the issue, I must ask: what is the mouse trap for temptation or the rat poison for desire?  I believe the remedy to temptation has three aspects: recognize the truth about you, remember the provision of God and resist any inferior substitutes.  First, recognize the truth about you – your weaknesses, your strengths and your blind spots – so that you are aware of the dangers before they surface.  Then, remember the provision of God – the abundance of life, truth and love – and trust His will for you.  Finally, resist the innate desire to accept anything inferior – what is quicker, easier or cheaper – to God’s very best.   If we know, for example, that we are tempted to bear false witness (i.e., lie), we can resist that temptation by being aware of our inclination, remember God’s equipping us to share the truth and reject the temporary comfort through ‘gilding the lily’.

We all have things we need to deal with in order to keep our home healthy and whole … whether it be a (hu)man or a mouse.

What a Feeling

Earlier this week, my family went to see Disney’s latest movie, “Christopher Robin”.  It was a sweet, if somewhat simple, story of a grown man remembering the importance of family and friends.  As I watched, I was transported to my childhood, through the recollection of familiar songs and sayings of a bear and his friends, and my early adulthood, as I remembered watching on VHS these same stories with my children.  For me (and those my age), it was a trip down memory lane and into the hundred-acre wood, making me long for simpler times.

These thoughts I am having are ‘nostalgia’, which is defined as ‘a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition’.  The term comes from the Greek word nostos (home) and algia (pain): it is literally ‘home-sickness’.  Nostalgia is all about feelings: longing for the good old days or the hoping that we can make America great again.  But nostalgia (like all feelings) is not necessarily anchored in reality, for the good old days may not have been all that good for some in our society and the America of generations past may not have been as great as we recall.

Instead of embracing sentimentality based on feelings, the Bible commands us to elicit memories based on facts.  The last few weeks, at Vacation Bible School and through Sunday morning messages, I have read in the scriptures what we are commanded to remember: as the Israelites were crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land they were commanded to erect a tower of 12 stones from the riverbed (an Ebenezer, a ‘stone of remembrance’) to remind future generations of the deliverance Lord had granted them; and through the letters Jesus dictated to the churches in Asia Minor they were commanded to remember the great height from which they had fallen.  They were commanded to remember the facts of God’s gracious and merciful interactions with them, not the emotions of the moment.

Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.  Revelation 3:3

The church is commanded to remember what we have received (tangible blessings and actual gifts) and what we have heard (reliable teachings and sworn testimonies).  We are not commanded to commemorate how we felt about what we have received or heard.  In fact, an argument could be made that nostalgia emotions and feelings are man-made idols which could take the place of God if we are not careful.  Instead of worshiping the God who has revealed Himself in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we are tempted to offer our sacrifices to the gods of happiness and comfort.   Unfortunately, those who choose feelings over facts end up with nothing.

It is good to remember what has happened in the past – what God has done and said – but it might not be best to wish we went back.  May the source of our joy in the present be what is real and not simply what we feel.

The Melting Pot

There is a place in my neighborhood that is a microcosm of my neighborhood.  As the noontime hour approaches, you can see every demographic:  there are police officers in uniform, fire fighters in Blue BFD T-shirts, DCR lifeguards from Malibu Beach, grandchildren dressed in Vineyard Vines pants (pegged at the ankle) visiting their grandparents, National Grid workers in safety vests, lawyers in business suits, moms with strollers, politicians and fast-food clerks.  It is there where every ethnicity and lifestyle of Dorchester is represented, and men and women of every age are present.  Where is this perfect melting pot that includes everyone, from Boston Brahmin to the denizen of the triple-deckers?  As a pastor, I would like to say that I am talking about the church, but, alas, I am not.  The place that I am talking about is the deli counter at Lamberts.  At lunchtime, the line for sandwiches includes everyone that calls Dorchester home.

Ah, Lamberts, where you can get the finest sandwich eight bucks can buy.  All you have to do is hand the meat slicer your choice of roll and a list (either verbally or in writing) of ingredients, and a few minutes later, you are handed a piece of heaven wrapped in butcher paper.   But it is in that long line leading to the counter that you can brush shoulders with literally anyone and everyone.  As I wait for my turn, I wonder if this is what heaven will be like, complete with the distinct sound of dropped ‘r’s and the obligatory ‘wicked’.

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”  Colossians 3:11 (NIV)

The original design for what we call the local church, according to the apostle Paul, was that it included everyone.  No one was to be excluded based on religious, cultural, national, economic or gender (cf. Gal. 3:28).  In practice, the local gatherings of the family of God routinely miss the mark.  Why can’t the people of God be like the line at Lamberts?  Why isn’t the make-up of the ‘bride of Christ’ the same as those waiting for sandwiches?  Why isn’t the church as diverse as those frequenting the local deli?

I suppose the answer to all these questions is simple: reputation.  Lamberts has the long line for their offerings because they are known, largely through word of mouth, as a provider of excellent lunches for everyone.  What is the reputation of the church?  Justified or not, Dr. Martin Luther King was quoted as saying, “…it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”  In the fifty-eight years since those words were uttered, the church has taken great strides, but there is more to be done so that the community surrounding our houses of worship verify that the local church has changed.  I hope that one day soon the same crowd at Lamberts is present at Calvary.  All we can do is spread the word, with genuine sincerity, that all are welcome to worship the Lord.

Free Delivery

Unless you yourself have been living in a cave for the past three weeks, you know about the rescue of the dozen Thai boys and their soccer coach.  This rescue can be only described as miraculous.  On Saturday, June 23rd, the team was reported missing, their bicycles found at the mouth of a cave as monsoon rains poured down.  Search and recue teams were dispatched, but the flooded caves proved too treacherous for the local authorities.  National and international divers were recruited, and, despite the odds, the whole team was found by a diver on July 2nd, nine days after reported missing.  Weak from starvation and compromised by low oxygen levels in the cave, the team was cared for (underground) as the rescue team formulated an extraction plan.  Ultimately, with the use of a ‘buddy diver’ system, the boys and their coach were rescued six, seven and eight days later (on July 8th, 9th and 10th).  After more than two weeks of darkness, for the boys and their loved ones, they all were safely resting in a hospital located 37 miles away from that murky cave.

To many observers, lost in the details of this miraculous delivery are the fatal circumstances of Major Saman Gunan, the former Thai Navy Seal who died when his oxygen ran out while navigating the path in and out of the cave on July 6th.  Without the sacrifice of a few, there would not be reason to rejoice.  The good news – that the boys were delivered from certain death – is undergirded by greater news – that there are always some who will be willing to die that others may live.  The good news celebrated by ordinary people is secured by extraordinary people amongst us: fire fighters, police officers, rangers, soldiers, sailors and more.  Join me in celebrating the ones who dare to face death for the sake of others.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8

Saving innocent good boys is commendable work.  Saving guilty troublemakers (the neighborhood kids that are throwing rocks at houses and cars while calling our parents terrible names and stealing their property) is another matter.  While no one would say, “Let them die!”, that same ‘no one’ will not risk their very lives, instead doing what they can, to save them.  No one simply human, that is.  The one who is fully human and fully divine would not only risk His life but will give His life to save all those who oppose His Father.   He gave His life for you and me.

We all have been driven deeper into darkness through the chaos of the rising waters and were at the point of death, needing deliverance.  Thank God that He bought us into the light, giving His own life as a means of our rescue.

What The World Needs Now

During a recent Bible study, the following question was posed:  Who has been an example of Christlikeness for you?  The question was asked as part of the larger context of the great commission where, in part, Jesus directs His followers to make disciples by “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Since we can only teach what we already know, implicit in the commission is each disciple’s obedience to Christ’s commands.  Wisdom further implies that Jesus’ disciples would utilize and model the knowledge we have acquired.  Essential to making disciples, therefore, is exemplifying Christlikeness, and thankfully, I have plenty of people who demonstrate obedience to Jesus.

Since this blog is written for public consumption (and once it is posted, it can never completely disappear), I am not going to include names.  That being said, I have mental pictures of numerous people who regular live out Jesus’ great commandment:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37–40 (NIV)

While no one is perfect, I can picture in my mind many who love the Lord with all they are: they give sacrificially to His work, they meditate daily on His word, and they share consistently His transforming power.  I can also see in my recollections many who love their neighbor as much as they love themselves: those who have crossed cultural boundaries to tell others the good news of Jesus, shared time they didn’t have to care and comfort strangers in need, and spoke words of truth to those who needed a dose of reality.

All these things, and more, exemplify Christlikeness in a world that desperately needs neighbors with a character akin to Jesus.  We are constantly bombarded by accounts on our newsfeeds and newscasts of inhumanities perpetrated against the least among us.  Because we are a nation of laws (and those laws are subject to interpretation by politicians and pundits), we need people who choose to live, however imperfectly, according to a higher standard: God’s law.  We, as a society, need individuals who are willing to love God wholly and love their neighbors indiscriminately.  We need people who are willing to exemplify Christlikeness, even at great personal cost.

So, I return to the question I began with:  Who has been an example of Christlikeness for you?   My answer is simple: All those who choose to express sacrificial love instead of selfish self-interest.  In saying this, my answer is also complex:  Those who are an example of Christlikeness can be found anywhere, since they have no other commonalities outside of love (as there is no experiential, economic, political or ethnic indicators of a disciple of Jesus).  While not everyone is an example of Christlikeness, anyone could be.  Anyone could follow the law of sacrificial love rightly expressed to God and others.

B.H.A.G.s

As I was following a digital ‘rabbit trail’ this week, I came across Volvo’s mission statement: “Vision 2020 is about reducing the number of people that die or are seriously injured in road traffic accidents to zero.”  Volvo has embraced what business leaders call a B.H.A.G. – a big, hairy, audacious goal.  They developed an emotionally compelling and strategically bold trajectory for their company.  Volvo and other business who develop these B.H.A.G.s challenge themselves, their employees and their consumers to imagine a future that is bigger than their individual efforts could produce, scarier than their comfort levels would allow and bolder than their frames of reference should expect.

B.H.A.G.s are nothing new.  In fact, when Jesus sent out his disciples to minister to the needs of the world around them, as recorded in Matthew 10, he commands them:

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.”    Matthew 10:8

In my humble opinion, those are some big, hairy and audacious goals.  How would it be possible for that rag-tag band of fishermen, financial agents and farmers to be able to do these things?  Raise the dead?  B.H.A.G.s are great, as long as they are achievable.  When Jesus gave them a humanly impossible task to accomplish, thank God he also equipped them to accomplish it.  Matthew tells us:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.   Matthew 10:1

The Lord still gives his disciples B.H.A.G.s.  The Lord also give them the ability to accomplish these B.H.A.G.s through his equipping.  

I wonder what B.H.A.G.s the Lord may be calling us to aspire to accomplish in our communities today.  Without diminishing the power of God at work through us (it seems unlikely that we’d be commanded to raise the dead), He is challenging us attempt more than our ability enables, our comfort allows and our logic expects.  He may be calling us to completely love those who make different choices than we have made.  He may be calling us to comprehensively care for those ravaged by the consequences of sin, regardless of whether this sin is theirs or another’s.  He may be calling us consciously give away all that He has generously given us – everything from grace to garage space.  He may be calling us to compassionately speak the truth that others need to hear in a way that they will hear it so that the healing of hearts and relationships may take place.

Whatever we might think God has called us to accomplish, Matthew 10 challenges us to think bigger, think hairier, and think more audaciously.  If we think we can help ten people, God may be enabling us to help a hundred.  If we think we can encourage someone living on our cul-de-sac, God may be enabling us to encourage someone NOT living in our neighborhood.  If we think we can teach the kids at the church, God may be enabling us to teach the kids at the public school.  God is the originator of B.H.A.G.s.  What is He able to accomplish through ours, were we willing to give Him the opportunity?